This month I found a couple new-to-me BookTubers, and binging their videos was strangely motivating. As I've been writing more, I'm more aware than ever that I should be reading more. I'm not exactly reading with purpose yet – that is, I'm not focusing on my own genre or reading with a critical eye – but I do find the practice of reading is making writing easier, and vice versa.
Watching other people talk about reading made me excited to make time for it myself this month.
Pretty soon I'm going to stop patting myself on the back for having rediscovered a hobby with a low cost of entry (free thanks to Libby and my Kindle), but today is not that day.
I read two books this month. Let's dive in!
The first book I read this month, I picked up because one of those aforementioned BookTubers absolutely raved about it. Unfortunately, it left something to be desired. But on the bright side, I learned something about myself while reading it!
I struggled with this one from the start and nearly DNF'd it. What kept me going was that, at first, I had an inkling the main character's religion is supposed to be a fantastical version of Judaism, and I wanted to stick around to find out.
Margaret is the daughter of a heartless alchemist and an outcast for being Yu'adir, which, yes, is Jewish in this book's world. I picked up on the some of the earlier hints right away, and by the time the hints became sledgehammers to the head, I was far enough in that I wanted to finish. (I later googled and discovered the author is Jewish so her handle on subtle microaggressions makes sense.)
The love interest, Weston, is this world's Catholic Irish immigrant, and faces his own set of bigotry. The book takes place in an alternative world's 1920s, as far as I can tell.
So here's the thing: I felt like the exploration of prejudice and bigotry based on minority religious status was interesting, but found the comparison between the two minorities and the difficulties they face oversimplified and juvenile. The majority religion is some form of Christianity that is never really expanded upon. I'm sure Irish immigrants had it rough, but I felt focusing on Weston's Catholicism (Sumicism in-world) as the reason people hate him was silly when put up beside fantasy-Judaism.
Imagining the situation in the real world had me rolling my eyes. Were people ever really murdering Catholics for being Catholic? Did I miss that day in religious-history class?
Anyway, the other reason I struggled to get into this book was the writing style. I tend to dislike present tense and the internal monologuing was overwhelming (lots of telling where we could have seen some showing), even though the book is 3rd person POV. I did learn that YA is just not my genre anymore, and that's fine. I'm glad I finally know that about myself.
The mythical hunt the characters are gearing up for is fairly interesting, but almost a McGuffin in the sense that this book is much more about the love story and character development than the plot, and that's fine, too. I just didn't like the characters enough to care when they grew.
In the end, A Far Wilder Magic was fine but I never truly lost myself in it.
Murder on St. Mark's Place by Victoria Thompson
After finishing Murder on Astor Place, I was looking forward to continuing the Gaslight Mystery series by Victoria Thompson. I was surprised I had to wait for the next book to be available – this is an older series, but apparently still popular.
Book two picks up a few months after the end of the previous book. Sarah Brandt and Frank Malloy once more find themselves working together to solve the murder of a teenage "Charity Girl", the 1920s term for a girl who exchanges sex for gifts.
The mystery didn't disappoint. I thought I had the killer pegged early and was a little annoyed, because either the clues were too obvious or the red herring was, but in the end I was satisfied by the reveal. Thompson, so far, has not disappointed on that front.
I also enjoyed the character growth in this book. We learn more about Frank's personal life and see a friendship develop between Sarah and Frank. They still aren't together – or even fully aware they like each other as anything other than colleagues – but the deepening of their friendship feels genuine and natural. I appreciate a good slow burn.
This book flew by. At 288 pages, I read it in a single day. The writing style is fairly simple and sometimes spells things out a little too much, but I don't mind a lack of purple prose in a mystery novel.
My biggest complaint is that the end felt fairly abrupt. The last two chapters seemed to come out of nowhere, and I thought there could have been a filler chapter between them to draw out the suspense just a little longer.
Still, I'm getting a kick out of this series and it's nice to know what I'll be picking up next. I've already got book three on hold.